Interdisciplinary Inquiry


Gandhi and Education - Part II - Strategic Nonviolence

Also referred to as pragmatic or expedient nonviolence, strategic nonviolence is most closely associated with the work of political theorist Gene Sharp, specifically his 1973 Politics of Nonviolent Action. The application of strategic nonviolence includes a tactical focus aimed at accomplishing a predetermined objective, independent of a particular ethical orientation. Gandhi’s method of nonviolent action proved highly effective in the fight against the British Empire and has been adapted by Sharp and others in the struggle against corrupt power structures in subsequent decades.

These methods include nonviolent resistance, Satyagraha (or "truth force"), passive resistance, positive action, and nonviolent direct action. Those promoting strategic nonviolence don’t object to the ability of religious belief to serve as an impetus for action, but deny that moral commitments must necessarily precede such action.

The school of strategic nonviolence has grown in influence due to the recognition that the practice itself is often more appealing to people than the overarching ideological framework responsible for it. In a postmodern age where the prevalence of moral relativism finds fewer people expressing belief in absolute Truth, Gandhi’s writings sound overly moralizing and his ethical code seems virtually impossible to replicate in contemporary times. The advantage to a strategic approach is its attractiveness to a wide, largely secular, audience. The trend in academia toward contextualization allows for the invalidation of any aspect of Gandhi that is recognized as culturally-specific. Much of Gandhi’s writing on education concerns freeing India from colonial enslavement and reversing the domination of a Western educational system and its corresponding values (Burke, 2000)  Accepting a diluted version of Gandhi – having dismissed that which is deemed too foreign or simply irrelevant – is easier than grappling with his moral prescriptions. Advocates of strategic nonviolence dismiss the religious ideological Gandhi in favor of the purely pragmatic one.

While strategic nonviolence is understood primarily in terms of political theory, a parallel exists in the field of education. In a classroom setting, it means teaching about historical events and how the Gandhian method worked when implemented in the struggle for Indian independence. Students could then be taught how to resolve their own conflicts using similar nonviolent tactics adapted to a much smaller scale. I believe that strategic nonviolence is best represented by conflict resolution education, a reactionary approach aimed at problem-solving and abating violence in schools. The implementation of violence-reduction strategies is goal-oriented and results-driven; demonstrating little interest in fostering virtue for its own sake.

Clearly, there are limitations to any approach that detaches Gandhian techniques from their ethical context. A mechanized or formulaic approach is almost always goal-oriented and diminishes the importance of the process itself, violating Gandhi’s belief in the reciprocal relationship between means and ends.

Rebecca Joy Norlander

(Read part 1)

(Read part 3)

(Read part 4)


Posted at 08:04 AM

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